The Sell: Toyota, meet BMW. Electric cars get fun.
The Test: Even though we were running late for a trailhead meet-up, we didn’t think twice about bombing down a Catskill mountain road. Simply put, an electric car that handles this sharply ($42,300; 137 city/111 hwy MPGe) doesn’t exist this side of Tesla. We credit the rear-wheel drive, which helps give it the handling of a traditional BMW sports sedan. Muscle it around a corner and it’ll keep you on line with zero drama. More important: it feels capable, safe, and agile. That’s party because it’s even lighter (by 650 pounds) than the four-door Mini.
BMW pulled this off by starting with a carbon-fiber chassis, co-engineered with the same supplier used by Boeing for the 787. That fat-cutting led to lighter suspension and batteries, too.
The i3’s footprint and cargo capacity are nearly identical to the Mini’s, but it feels far roomier, in part because there’s no transmission tunnel, so the cabin floor is totally flat, and because the rear doors open backward Lambo-style, so getting into the second row is much easier.
And the car is crazy eco, with a cabin constructed from recycled and sustainable materials. The i3 comes with its own app that finds charging stations and offers slick navigation from where you parked to your destination via public transit or walking. It lets you use your phone to auto-adjust off-peak charging and you can even pre-heat or pre-cool the car from your phone while the i3 is still plugged in. It’s not just for show: the upholstery maintains a neutral temperature, so you’re less apt to run the AC.
Add it all up and you have a car with 81 miles of range that corners like a BMW.
What’s Missing? A look that blends. The i3 is uber-cool, but it’s also polarizing. As many people told us it was “hideous” as said it was “sweet!” And the latter were exclusively geeky dudes.
The Verdict: Who knew that being carbon conscious could be this much fun?